Prayer week starts for HIV, AIDS victims

Prayers are lifted high this week for Catawba County residents infected with HIV and AIDS.

This week is the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of HIV and AIDS, and three area churches, as well as ALFA, are reaching out to residents infected and affected by the disease.

"(The goal) is to inspire those who are affected and infected by HIV," said Michelle Mathis, health and wellness minister at Exodus Missionary Outreach Church. "Life doesn't end with a positive diagnosis."

Mathis said this week's events are a "call of action" for faith-based organizations to take a stand and recognize people affected with HIV and AIDS in Catawba County.

"There are prejudices that come with the disease," Mathis said. "The church is the center of education for many topics. Children are not getting (sex-based) education in schools or at home. Children can get (sex) knowledge in the streets or in church."

Morningstar First Baptist Church, Unifour Christian Fellowship Church and Exodus Missionary Outreach Church worked collaboratively, with support from ALFA, to organize events this week to educate youth and adults about safe sex and HIV and AIDS.

"The church has been silent way too long because sex is a taboo topic," Mathis said. "Also, (the church) has refused to recognize those issues and diseases. There are (community) members who are hurting and are infected that need spiritual and emotional healing."

According to the Center for Disease Control, there are more than a million people living with HIV in the United States, which includes adults and children. In addition to that statistic, one in five people do not know they are infected with HIV.

CDC also reports that 56,300 Americans are infected with HIV each year, which equals an infection every 9.5 minutes. More than 14,000 people in the United States die from AIDS yearly.

To combat these statistics, Mathis, along with other organizers, feel prayer, education and leadership will stop the spread of the disease.

"As long as there are people suffering from HIV and AIDS, we have to minister," Mathis said, adding the goal is to see a ministry created to help people with HIV and AIDS heal spiritually and continue to live life to its fullest.

"It's not enough to sit and listen," Mathis said. "We have to take an active part. That's what this week is about."

To learn more about how to become involved in HIV and AIDS awareness or volunteer, call Linda Sheehan at (828) 322-1447 ext. 231.

Upcoming events:

Wednesday: A community Bible study focusing on HIV and AIDS, hosted by the Rev. Roberts at Morningstar First Baptist Church in Hickory.

Thursday: Free HIV testing at 6 p.m. at Exodus Homes in Hickory.
HIV 101 and safer sex classes offered at various participating congregations.

Friday: "An Evening of Hope and Joy" — a prayer and praise service from 6:30-8 p.m. at Exodus Missionary Outreach Church, featuring area youth and adults choirs, a HIV-positive speaker and a candlelight service.

Saturday: "Help Imagine Victory" voice and visual art finale for youth ages 13-18 from 6-8 p.m. at Brown Sugar Cafe. The event is sponsored by the Hickory branch of the NAACP and will feature submitted poetry and art by area youth. The contest is geared to encourage youth to take a stand to fight HIV and AIDS. Awards will be given in different categories.

Anyone wishing to submit artwork or be in the spoken contest must register or submit artwork by 2 p.m. Thursday at Brown Sugar Cafe.

Also Saturday at Brown Sugar Cafe is a dinner from 4-8 p.m. Tickets are $8 per person and may be purchased in advance at the restaurant or at the door. The dinner includes chicken or fish, sides, dessert and a drink. A portion of the proceeds will benefit ALFA.

Ongoing: "Dream, Dream Again" vases are on sale for $5 each. Proceeds will go to agencies and events to bring awareness about HIV and AIDS. To purchase a vase, call Karen Lowe at (828) 217-9111.